1776, The war for America’s independence

Published 1:19 am Saturday, July 1, 2006

The war for America’s independence was led by two Georges- King George 111 for England and George Washington for the United States. In his book titled 1776 David McCullough describes the two opposing leaders.

The man, King George 111 was not at all how his critics described him. He was not the dim-witted, unattractive, man who did not learn to read until he was eleven years of age. In fact, he was tall and handsome, had clear blue eyes and a wore a cheerful expression. He was an intelligent man with a talent for music who played both the piano and the violin. He enjoyed Mozart, Bach and his favorite composer, Handel. He loved architecture and produced beautiful architectural drawings, he collected the finest paintings, and his book collection grew until his library ranked with the best in the world. He was fascinated with clocks and ship models and took great interest in astronomy. In fact, he was the founder the Royal Academy of Arts.

The other side of the king’s personality was his dislike for the royal court where he appeared to be socially awkward. He preferred wearing work clothes and working on his farm at Windsor. He never became involved in relationships in the court where affairs with the mistresses was a royal privilege but remained faithful to his plain German wife, princess Charlotte Sophia, who ultimately bore him fifteen children. Gossips described his social life as “Farmer George’s chief pleasures in life are a leg of mutton and his plain little wife.”

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King George 111 had at his command the world’s most powerful army and navy . His advisors were men who were well educated and competent to plant colonies and govern the greatest empire in the world.

Arrayed against the King of England was George Washington, son of a tobacco planter and raised by a widowed mother after the age of eleven. Because of his limited circumstances George worked to help support his family. As result, his education consisted of only seven or eight years of schooling by a private tutor and, unlike most of the prominent Virginia patriots, no training in Latin, Greek or law.

However, George applied himself and developed a clear writing style. As a young man he learned to negotiate the polite Virginia society with polish and grace. As a devout Christian he followed a set of moral principles he had written down as a boy.

He worked as a surveyor’s apprentice while in his teens and at the age of twenty the governor sent him to Western Pennsylvania to challenge French claims to the Alleghany River Valley. His diary on the venture was published under the title, The Journal of Major George Washington. It became a best seller, making his name known throughout the colonies and in Europe.

Decades later Washington was very much aware of his limitations when he was selected by Congress to lead the Continental Army against the mother country. He had been retired from military life for fifteen years and his only prior experience had been serving under British general Braddock against the French in Pennsylvania where he was on the losing side. He had never led an army in battle, had never commanded anything larger than a regiment.

Washington’s staff consisted primarily of two young men whose knowledge of war was limited to what they had read in books. Nathanael Greene was a Quaker who was given the rank of general at the age of thirty-three, and Henry knox, a twenty-five year old, who was a book seller. His army consisted of men of every description and occupation- farmers, storekeepers, shoemakers, schoolteachers, riff-raff, and boys- all expecting to be turned into soldiers.

The British army appeared dressed in red coats, well-trained, battlefield-tested and in overwhelming numbers. From the siege of Boston, then New York, and for several weeks the rag-tag American army suffered defeat after defeat across New Jersey. Without a doubt the British had totally defeated the rebellious colony- except for one thing. Washington and his young officers would not give up.

Realizing that he could not beat the enemy in open battles, Washington managed, somehow, in the midst of a terrible winter snow storm to cross the Delaware River with enough of his army to surprise and, in less than an hour, capture the Hessian mercenaries at Trenton. Only four Americans were wounded, including Washington, and not one was killed. His only casualties were two soldiers who froze to death during the march. The one incident that was out of order happened after the battle was over. Several soldiers broke into the Hessian rum supply and got roaring drunk. Washington either was not told about it or chose to ignore it.

In New Jersey the fighting continued as the winter wore on. It would be nearly seven years before the war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. During those years Washington’s two young officers, Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox had developed into brilliant field commanders. Support from France and the Netherlands helped the Americans but it was the determination of Washington and his army to “stay the course” that won the war.

On July 4, as we celebrate the birth of the nation and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we must remember those who suffered defeat in battle after battle but won the war. They overcame the cold of winter, hunger, disease, desertion, cowardice, disillusionment, discouragement, fear, and scenes that would remain seared in their brains for the rest of their lives. We must also remember their bedrock devotion to this nation.

Only Washington and those who were with him knew what a close call America came to being aborted at the hour of its birth. The character displayed by the founders of this nation stands as an awesome example for every generation of Americans since their day.